I live in an economically depressed Rust Belt city. One of the things that came as a shock for the first few months was the vast quantity of able bodied adults who spend normal business hours wandering the city doing god-knows-what. This is to be expected, of course, given that there are hardly any jobs to be had here and even fewer worth having. Like most places that fall on hard times, there is a powerful feeling of idleness here (which I contribute to during the summer months by working without a fixed schedule). I might be making unwarranted assumptions; for example, some of the people doing nothing in particular by day may work at night. Nonetheless, let's tilt the rhetorical playing field in favor of the "Get a job, you bums!" argument and assume that they're unemployed.

We are told constantly that even if the jobs available are minimum wage, 30 hour per week ones that won't earn us enough to meet ends, we should work to experience the "dignity of work." I've been hearing that phrase since I was old enough to understand it. Paul Ryan likes to say it a lot, as does any other right-wing gasbag worth his think tank paychecks. The theory appears to be that even if you're staggeringly poor, you should work because, like, it will build your character or something. You'll feel rewarded and motivated and productive and then your life will start to improve. I think. The trope is usually followed with a reminder that the Economics for Tots version of capitalism dictates that if you work hard, your rewards will increase over time.

Whenever I hear this I wonder if anyone – rich, poor, Unitarian, etc. – actually feels this way. Is the feeling we have at our jobs accurately described as "dignity"? Most jobs, especially the service industry type most likely available in a place like this, treat people with the antithesis of dignity. They are degrading, occasionally humiliating. Your employer and the people you serve will both treat you like shit a lot of the time. And you will find that, surprisingly, working harder doesn't necessarily lead to making more money or getting a less terrible job. Working harder just makes your employer better off. Even if the job is pleasant you'll find that living on minimum wage isn't exactly a dignified experience.

Look, I get it. I get the Protestant Ethic thing, the idea that being productive in some way is good for us. Personally I find being inactive, unproductive, and idle to be tremendously depressing. I feel bad about myself when it happens. At the same time, we should all feel comfortable embracing the fact that jobs are mostly terrible. Working may give us dignity, but being at work certainly doesn't. A job is a thing we do to make a living, not a conduit for spiritual advancement. Reducing unemployment would be great, but can we drop the Cotton Mather bullshit?

The most obvious flaw in the "dignity of work" argument (aside from the reality of how little actual work the super-wealthy do on a daily basis) is embedded in conservatives' own rhetoric about minimum wage employment. These jobs, they remind us, are not really meant to provide someone with a living. Fast food and retail jobs are for high school kids to make some extra spending money part time for a few years before moving on to something more substantial. To close the circle of illogic, then, the people I see wandering around at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon should go get a job at McDonald's to experience the Dignity of Work, even though that job does not, and is not intended to, pay enough for an adult to make a living. Cool.

I'd agree that work, in the sense of a purpose or goal toward which we direct ourselves, contributes to giving life meaning and purpose. There is dignity to be found in that kind of work. What people like Paul Ryan do is conflate "work" and "job", distorting the phrase to the point of making it meaningless at best and false at worst. If anyone has found dignity in waiting tables at Denny's and getting stiffed on tips I'd like to meet them.

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64 Responses to “RESTLESS”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    I think it's pretty simple–the Conservs who push this line (and they're not all Republicans, he added, recalling the Clinton 'Welfare Reform' Years) are operating on the assumption that everyone who is not working is receiving stacks of cash "for free" from the government. Their attitude is, then, that Getting Money In Exchange For Work is better than Getting Money For Doing Nothing.

    Which, if it were JUST that simple, you might have to concede, what with the whole "each man contains within himself the means of bettering or lessening the republic" and all that.

    But of course, it's NOT that simple. "Any job is better than no job" is, quite simply, not true, when "any job" will make you ineligible for things you can acquire that will enable you to eat and sleep under a roof. "Any job" can actually make you homeless and hungry–and God help you if you have kids (no, seriously, God better be the one, because no one else will.)

    Fucking assholes like Ryan like to believe that we're all starting from a cushy zero–that we're all basically responsible for what happens to us, and that If We Simply Work Hard Enough(tm)–because of course there always WILL be enough work, and there always WILL be someone willing to pay us well enough–we can have whatever we want. Because race, and systemic poverty, and lack of educational opportunities, and gender, and geographical isolation, and all the various things that fall under the aegis of "Inconvenient Realities That I'm Going To Ignore Because They Fuck Up My Beautiful Beautiful Math"–yeah, those things just don't factor for Mr. Ryan.

    There is no dignity in work itself–you can only have dignity in the presence of other people. And when those people are the "job creators" who can't figure out a way to outside service-sector jobs, so they settle for making those jobs dehumanizing (i.e. cheap) as far as the law will allow (and beyond, if you're 'off-the-books', like Pablo and Sheng Na)–there is no dignity to be had.

    Dignity, like justice, must be taken. Break out the fucking tumbrils, and then we'll see how much 'dignity' the 'job creators' show on the scaffold.

  2. c u n d gulag Says:

    Reducing unemployment would be great, but can we drop the Cotton Mather bullshit?


    Nor can we drop "The Scarlet Letter" bullshit, regarding women.

  3. c u n d gulag Says:

    I don't particularly want to go on a long tirade today on this subject, so I'll spare you.

    I've always been a peaceful person, but I agree with J. Dryden.

    It's coming to the point where we need to take our "Job Creators" ("All rise… Now, all kneel… Let us pray for our 'Blessed Job Creators' as they prey on us… Amen… Thank you… All rise… All sit… Refer now to the holy books of Ayn Rand in front of you in the pews…), and if they don't come to some realizations on their own soon, make a "point" of teaching them a little bit about human dignity.

    Our 0.001% need to know that human dignity has a price.

    I'd recommend they sell high, and settle-up – before the rest of us decide to see how low we'll go to buy.

  4. c u n d gulag Says:

    I don't particularly want to go on a long tirade today on this subject, so I'll spare you.

    I've always been a peaceful person, but I agree with J. Dryden.

    It's coming to the point where we need to take our "Job Creators" ("All rise… Now, all kneel… Let us pray for our 'Blessed Job Creators' as they prey on us… Amen… Thank you… All rise… All sit… Refer now to the holy books of Ayn Rand in front of you in the pews…), and if they don't come to some realizations on their own soon, make a "point" of teaching them a little bit about human dignity.

    Our 0.001% need to know that human dignity has a price.

    I'd recommend they sell high, and settle-up – before the rest of us decide to see how low we'll go to buy.

  5. c u n d gulag Says:

    Sorry about the repeat of my word-turd.
    I don't know what happened.

  6. arjun Says:

    The whole controversy about minimum wage truly baffles me. Even Henry Ford, a true capitalist if there ever was one, knew that employees had to make a living wage to buy the products his factory was producing.

    The minimum wage should be raised to $15. Even that would barely be a living wage in most big cities. In combination with the legalization (and taxation) of marijuana, the economy would get a big boost that would ultimately benefit everyone.

    After college, i never worked for minimum wage, but i remember what it was like busing tables and scrubbing floors in a restaurant when i was in school. I always treat the people in minimum wage jobs with respect because i know how hard it can be dealing with the general public. Moreover, more and more people, who in the past would get high-paying factory jobs, are working for minimum wage. I can't see how this is good for the economy. This should be worrying, even for true blue capitalists.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Here is a podcast you should listen to right now, and it might make you feel better.

    See, what our overlords aren't telling us as they continue to espouse the dignity of work is that even as we have such a high unemployment rate, productivity has risen and has been rising even when the economy crashed and people were getting laid off. This is due to automation and outsourcing. So what the current generations are looking at now is having to work two and three jobs and they are not even maintaining the same level of income as what was seen previously. The currently unemployed who actually are now declining to work are looking at this situation, wherein they are expected to run on this treadmill for their whole lives, literally until they drop dead from exhaustion, and they are saying fuck that. As Jason Pargin/David Wong says in the podcast, this is entirely rational behavior because these people would rather enjoy their lives, develop their hobbies, read books, et cetera, rather than spend their time in this temporal sphere acting like slaves and scared rabbits.

  8. Anderson Says:

    What is dignified about feeling exploited?

    Nothing, that I can see.

  9. Sarah Says:

    And for further proof of the rise in productivity even as unemployment continues to increase, I give you the robot barista. I don't think we can blame this one on Obama.

  10. jestbill Says:

    I'm retired. I don't *do* anything. I like it.

    I have been in favor of a minimum income for at least 45 years–Nixon mentioned it back then. Of course Nixon mentioned a volunteer military in 1960…

    There will always be people who need to be institutionalized. If a person absolutely needs "a job" I favor giving them one.

  11. Benny Lava Says:

    To answer your question Ed,

    Try being unemployed in America. You think working for low wages is humiliating? Try not working. Remember the first question asked of you by any stranger in America: so what do you do?

    As far as work without dignity goes it is what they want. Someone else opined every time you hear someone point at a low wage worker and say "this is why you go to college" is proof that there is no dignity to these jobs; they are purposefully degraded. Have you ever heard people make jokes about the immigrants that clean toilets? I have. It is meant to degrade the underclass.

    So yeah, being a part of the working underclass sucks. Being a part of the unemployed underclass sucks even more.

  12. Turkle Says:

    Having worked quite a variety of low-wage jobs in my day, I can assure you that it doesn't take even the most doltish employee very long to understand that there is, in fact, no dignity at all in working your ass off only to go home poor and make someone else rich. Anyone claiming otherwise has, I submit, never actually worked a real job in their life (or are such a boot-licking toady that they'd never know the difference anyway).

    More work, less jobs!

  13. Misterben Says:

    Nothing to contribute other than to say I think this is one of your best columns and a great example of how powerfully you write about work, class, and economic reality in America.

  14. Leslee Says:

    We will reach a point where we will HAVE to de-couple self-worth from employment, because at some point there simply WILL NOT BE ENOUGH JOBS for everyone.

    I know that seems like crazy talk, but if you take the long view and consider the rate of population growth versus the amount of computer automation it becomes apparent that eventually there will not be enough jobs available – even for everyone who WANTS one.

  15. anotherbozo Says:

    Has everybody here read "Nickeled and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich? At least once? It's the "Black Like Me" for the economically deprived. I read it years ago and it's stayed with me; she nails down the vicious circle perfectly, and vividly. (gee, the reviews on amazon show some differences of opinion. could the book have hit some buttons?) Available as an ebook.

  16. Procopius Says:

    @arjun — I think you're sincere, but I went through high school in Royal Oak, one of the segregated suburbs of Detroit. I was lucky enough to have several great teachers, especially Mrs Miller who taught Civics during my freshman year and was one of those who passed on the oral history. Even John Dos Passos knew about Old Henry's "five dollar a day" bullshit. "But there were strings. There were always strings." Old Henry only paid that wage to people he approved of. This was even before Old Henry brought Harry Bennet in to run his Service Department. He had agents who went to workers' homes. If the yard hadn't been mowed, he didn't get the five dollars. If the neighbors said he drank, he didn't get the five dollars. If the neighbors said he smoked, he didn't get the five dollars. If he was single, or didn't have any children, he didn't get the five dollars. If he was a Catholic or a Jew, he didn't get the five dollars.

    I don't even want to get into what Old Henry did after 1920. Old Henry was far worse than the Koch Brothers.

  17. Kroveechernila Says:


    I work in a bar in Portland, Oregon. And all things considered, I do very well. Sure you get weirdos and broseph d-bags, sure you get stiffed now and then, sure you have to cut people off and they cuss you out. Maybe I've done it for too long, but all that never leaves the building with me. I say this not to brag but rather as a comment on our society, but I pretty much guarantee I make better money than Ed and other younger professors. I say this as a graduate student working to join them in their thankless toil.

    I guess my question is this – am I THAT lucky? I feel like anybody could do my job given the chance. It's really not very difficult to pour drinks and shoot the shit with strangers. If you can ignore the bullshit (and there is bullshit with any job), what's stopping anybody from making 20-40 dollars an hour to stand behind a bar and give people booze?

  18. Kroveechernila Says:


    I intended to reply to your comment regarding Nickle and Dimed but realized I didn't. I meant to say that it ought to be a requirement to hold national public office that you perform a similar experiment to Ehrenreich's, at least one job.

  19. quixote Says:

    People like having dignity. As J.Dryden says, other people confer it. And people work damn hard to get it conferred. They run for President, they try to be CEOs. So if plain old minimum wage work really conferred lots of dignity, you'd see independently wealthy wastrels with nothing to do applying for those jobs every chance they got. It's a lot easier than being a CEO, and they'd have an excellent chance of being hired.

    But oddly enough they never apply.

  20. Ron Says:

    I've known for a long time now that whenever someone talks about other people's "dignity," what they are really saying is "F%@# you, loser! Get to work and do what I tell you!

  21. Nick Says:

    Benny Lava nailed it. If your job is used as a scare tactic to impress upon children the importance of higher education, the ship has pretty well sailed on the "dignity of work."

  22. Greg Says:

    J Dryden and Ed should have a rant- off — er, podcast. It would be the only one I listen to.

  23. Graham Says:

    If you recall, @Another Bozo, Ehrenreich failed in her experiment: she got dermatitis so bad on her hands (from the industrial cleaning solvents) that she had to get medications from a doctor friend – medications and a consult she could NOT have afforded while living on the wage she was purportedly on.

  24. bb in GA Says:

    Another factor I see is that the low wage jobs actually penalize people who are receiving assistance by taking away their support (SNAP etc.) too quickly. They are faced with increased work associated expenses (childcare, transportation, equipment, clothing) at the same time their net cash in is cut both directly and through taxation, FICA, and Medicare tax.

    We need an on-ramp for people to have a chance to get out of the hole.


  25. Amarylllis Says:

    I guess my question is this – am I THAT lucky? I feel like anybody could do my job given the chance. It's really not very difficult to pour drinks and shoot the shit with strangers. If you can ignore the bullshit (and there is bullshit with any job), what's stopping anybody from making 20-40 dollars an hour to stand behind a bar and give people booze?

    I could give you the long list, but we can't all be bartenders.

    I'm a legal secretary. After 5 years of working with the Devil in Northeastern PA for less than $25k, I had the necessary experience to move to DC and make $63k + bonuses +benefits. Secretarial work doesn't require a degree and anyone with a basic understanding of computers and grammar can do it.

    However, not everyone can pick up and move to DC. I have family in DC whom I lived with for 5 months while saving up for an apartment and furniture. I don't have children. I had someone to foster my dog for 5 months. Without all of those things, I'd still be in NEPA choosing between the electric bill and food.

    "Just do this thing I do!" is a pointless answer. Not everyone can. How about we make everyone's job minimally good instead?

  26. Xynzee Says:

    Benny lava reminded me, there's an English insult I've heard that I find far more offensive than pretty much anything else—fills me with a spree shooting rage—and I'm not even the target for it. It's, "she's a bit of a scrubber." It smacks of classism, and it carries with it a belief that the person is less than human so you can with her as you please, up to an including throwing her in a gutter when you're through… alive or dead, doesn't matter.

  27. Ed Says:

    My bartender friends often make less than minimum wage. Tending bar in most places is slow as hell and not very lucrative unless you live in a major city. Your experience may not be typical.

  28. Xynzee Says:

    Having been in the unemployed/marginally employed/semiemployed/shittily employed/psychopath employed bracket for years I will say—with a number of caveats—that there is something to the "dignity of work". For me, even while working for abusive fucks, helped stave off the depression I suffered from being completely unemployed. I suffered a different kind of depression from this, but it wasn't as debilitating as the former.

    I'm fortunate to be in Australia, which up until these f-wits took over meant something. Now they're trying to make us America-lite.

    Caveat 1: the minimum wage should mean someone working 20hrs/wk should have more in their pocket after tax than being on full subsidy. Perfect for single mums w/ kids in school. With some subsidies to help out.

    Caveat 2: someone working full time should be able to be financially self sufficient. Back in the 60s a man could take care of himself and his dependents on *minimum* wage. Sure you won't be driving a Ferrari, but you can either save for a house or to get further study/trade skills for those who want to move up and get a Ferrari.

    Caveat 3: affordable skills/trade training or universities. So those with the drive can actually move upwards.

    Those helped me to get where I am now. I still had to work 6 days a week with a back injury to do it. If I'd been in the States it probably wouldn't have been possible.

    There are too many more to list, but you get the idea.

    What I don't get about the FaFV voting block—or more to the point their church leaders—is the rabid opposition to minimum wage. Economic stress is one of the greatest factors in marital breakdown. Economic stress is a major factor abortion.
    Another critical change is ending the WoD. Why are there so many single mothers in the inner-city? Could it be that the father's in jail?

  29. Xynzee Says:

    @Krovee: my shitty psychopath employment was in a bar. I wasn't making anywhere near that. Though the facts that Aussies don't tip but pay an actual wage instead and my lack of boobs may have had something to do with that. ;)

  30. Rich Says:

    Two issues here and one has gone unmentioned:

    Those people who are out and about during the day–many of them are working—-the evening or night shifts at a hospital or a Wal-Mart, or factory. they ay be bartenders or waitrons or something else that doesn't run on a 9-5 schedule. they might be realtors (one of the ones in my building looks like a bag lady when she isn't doing a showing).

    The other is complicated–although we've always had shady bankers, real estate speculators and the like, our economy has become all about buying and selling businesses. they get loaded up with debt and the workforce gets downsized, wage theft, wage cuts, or outsourced. Unions have a seat on the Board in Germany, but we've never had that here and employee ownership is often organized in a way that disguises the real management, such as family owned businesses like Publix supermarkets or the old set-up at United Airlines that partly was meant to pit different employees against each other. The old capitalists usually invested in someTHING–Carnegie and steel, Rockefeller and oil. they weren't saints and some like Henry Ford, became batshit crazy at a certain point, but the capital was connected to an actual product and they may have called out the Pinkertons when the workers tried to organize, but they weren't in a position to rationalize them away.

  31. Anonymouse Says:

    @BB: I couldn't agree with you more; I also think that people coming off SNAP and other programs should have a bit of time to adjust before it's taken away.

    @anotherbozo: I'm also a huge fan of Nickel and Dimed and think it should be required reading for everyone. @Sarah; the Millenials aren't the first generation to find themselves with no jobs. Gen X went off to college just as tuitions skyrocketed (I have older siblings whose tuition was completely free if they were in-state). If I had a nickel for every Boomer who sneered at me for working two jobs instead of backpacking Europe before college, I could have paid off my tuition. I worked my way through college, mostly doing those jobs Ehrenreich described so well in Nickel and Dimed. Most of us worked our way through school. My generation was sneered at for working in bookstores and cafes when we graduated–as if there were actually jobs in our chosen field (spoiler alert: there were no entry-level jobs for us, either). I'm glad your generation is getting sympathy for it–we were told we were slackers…for not starting our careers in the CEO's suite?

  32. Major Kong Says:

    I keep sounding the alarm on automation, which is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

    As someone up-thread pointed out, at some point there simply won't be enough jobs to go around. I fear this may be sooner rather than later.

    Now robots are great. They don't get tired. They don't call in sick. They don't ask for raises. They don't take maternity leave. They don't come in late.

    They only have one teensy weensy problem – THEY DON'T BUY ANYTHING!

    They don't eat at restaurants, they don't wear sneakers, they don't drive cars, they don't live in houses, They don't watch movies. They don't need iPhones.

    So what do you suppose happens to a consumer economy when there are no consumers?

  33. Mo Says:

    The flip side of this seems to be a sentiment among lower class conservatives that, if they had to work humiliating and physically debilitating jobs and nonetheless survived the experience, so can everyone.

    The "It-didn't-kill-ME" Syndrome.

    Chumps who long to yell, "Take this job and shove it!" nonetheless just cannot ever admit that they're as exploited as donkeys on a treadmill.

    I for one look forward to our robot job-takers and silicon overlords, because even being kept as a pet is better than working shit jobs.

    Ask any donkey.

  34. bjk Says:

    Every unemployed person should have their own personal immigrant and will earn $1 for every $10 the immigrant earns. The more immigrants you sponsor, the more you earn. So how this works? The poor get what they want, and the immigrants get what they want. We will have this country humming like Qatar in no time. Betraying all of our principles is a small price to pay for this kind of Pareto-optimal improvement, as Meghan McArdle would put it.

  35. quixote Says:

    Major Kong: So what do you suppose happens to a consumer economy when there are no consumers?

    People start thinking a universal basic income might be a good idea?

    Nah. That's totally ridiculous. Who could lord it over that way?

  36. anotherbozo Says:

    @Kroveechernila: I like your public office "work requirement."

    But keep in mind that what you take for granted might block a lot of folks from being hired as bartenders. Case in point would be Ehrenreich herself. I can easily imagine a rather frumpy, bespectacled middle-aged woman being rejected for a bartending job, no matter how well she can mix drinks.

  37. Major Kong Says:


    While that's a great idea, and I'd be all for it, I fear it would take a radical overhaul of our economic and political systems to make it happen.

  38. Gerald McGrew Says:

    I think our rhetoric hasn't caught up with the reality that's around us. The whole "dignity of work" line comes from an era where in almost every town in the US there were places of employment that made things, or catered to those who made things. So pretty much everyone who wanted a decent job could get one, either at the place that made things or at one of the associated businesses. Even if you weren't skilled enough to make things, you could be a janitor or something there. Thus, if you weren't working it was usually because you just plain didn't want to (unless you were disabled), and everyone knew this, which meant you had no dignity.

    Those days are gone. So many of the places where things are made are either overseas or manned by robots, and as such the businesses that catered to the places were things were made are gone as well. Therefore, now the people who aren't working actually do want to (and can) work, it's just that there isn't much actual work to do.

    Yet our rhetoric remains stuck in the "if you aren't working it's because you don't want to" period, even though that's no longer the case.

  39. Sarah Says:

    The flip side of this seems to be a sentiment among lower class conservatives that, if they had to work humiliating and physically debilitating jobs and nonetheless survived the experience, so can everyone.

    The "It-didn't-kill-ME" Syndrome.

    Mmph. The suicide rate, according to the chart seen here, was dropping until 2000, had an uptick the next year and then appears to have remained more-or-less level from there until about 2006. It rose in 2007 and has continued to rise every year since then until 2011, the last year for which numbers are available.

    It doesn't kill you, until it does, and then it did. Unfortunately, at that point, you're already dead.

    Of course, the right wing fuckwads are probably going to claim that suicide doesn't count as an actual consequence of our current situation. I think some of them will even imagine that suicide is not such a bad thing. Better that than the evils of socialism, eh?

  40. Xynzee Says:

    bb: raises one of those dilemmas that low income people have.
    Often the subsidy cuts usually happen before the individual has gotten into the income cycle, ie received their first pay check. Which can add an even more exciting level of fun if the person is paid with an actual check rather than a direct deposit. Rent or the power bill is still due that week.

    The AZ woman who was arrested for leaving her children in the car while at a job interview highlights this issue. You could imagine if she was the successful candidate from the interview, and then this happens to her. She could kiss that opportunity goodbye.

  41. democommie Says:

    I must be brief and swift as the public liberry closes in a few minutes and I don't got no other access at the moment. I told Time Warner to go fuck themselves the other day and then my notebooks wifi driver shit the bed–fuckin' NSA sumbitches!–and so I got no way to get on except by coming here or using my neighbor's network (beyond useless, that).

    I live in a town that is about 75% dependent on Entergy, Constellation (nukes), Novellis (aluminum) and Suny Oswego. Those are basically the only jobs that pay much more than minimum wage. I can't do 8 hours a day for more than a couple of days before I have to lay down for a day so even if I could get a job, I couldn't perform on a steady basis.

    It's just a good thing that I'm on the VA and get some SS retirement or I'd be living under the bridge that I bicycle over on my way to the bar.

    I have disposable income–I can buy beer or the internet, not both, considering TWC's extortionate pricing–and I'm spending it where it is most effective, creating a momentary sorta Elysian Fields.


  42. Sarah Says:

    This article seems relevant to this thread:

    The discussion there is just, like, wow. Quote:

    But when Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) got the chance to ask questions of Gaines-Turner and the two other witnesses, he directed much of his attention toward calling into question whether she is dependent on government programs, whether she has tried to find more work, and if she is partisan. He gave a “theoretical example” in which the government would increase spending on government programs like food stamps and welfare by 500 percent and asked, “They [people on the programs] would be out of poverty and that would be a good thing?” to which Gaines-Turner responded, “Yes, the programs work, yes it would be good to move them out of poverty.”

    He followed up saying, “But the cycle of dependency would certainly still be there which you also don’t like… The cycle of dependency, you wouldn’t be independent.”

    “I’m independent now on the program,” Gaines-Turner told him. “You’re independent on this?” Rokita asked.

    “Yes, I consider myself to be very independent. I work just as hard as anybody in this room,” Gaines-Turner replied. “I’m very independent.”

    “You’re independent, but you’re here testifying that you have to have these programs, you need these programs,” Rokita responded.

  43. Xynzee Says:

    @Sarah: the elephant in the room on that whole dialogue is that what she really needs is a decent living wage. Someone working full time shouldn't need a subsidy of any kind, unlike what we have with the current Walmart economy. The basic wage also needs to be connected to geographic location. What is sufficient to live in BFE, Mississippi won't hack it in NYC by a far cry.

    The Repugs cannot seem to connect the dots on that one. You want to lower govt expenditure on govt subsidy programs? Then get people a decent wage no matter what job they do. Pretty straight forward that.

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  45. Robert Savage Says:

    Do retirees experience a decline in dignity upon retirement? I don't think so.

  46. John Danley Says:

    Dignity always has to be adjusted for inflation.

  47. Graham Says:

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  48. bjk Says:

    Retirees do experience a decline in dignity. I can see it in my father. It happens. One minute they're asking you what's going on at work, the next minute they're asking you how you cooked the steak tartar.

  49. anotherbozo Says:

    Before mentioning "Nickeled and Dimed" earlier I went to Amazon to make sure it was still in print, and happened upon this exchange in the "comments" section of one of the more controversial reviews. Anyone who lives in countries that have decent safety nets should identify with the first. The second reflects our own reality.

    Nobody chooses to work 2 jobs at $7 an hour just to get by. And some people unfortunately dont 'get help along the way by many concerned others.' These people usually end up homeless or bankrupt. That's the point of social democracy: you don't have to be reliant on the whims of strangers. The minimum wage in my country (Australia) is $15 an hour. That's $570 a week. I have a friend from MN who barely gets $300 a week including commissions from working 40 hours a week at radioshack; such a thing is unthinkable in my country. —comment from 2010

    Your comment about increasing minimum wage was spot on. I had a minimum wage job in Louisiana when I was a freshman in high school. Minimum wage was $4.25 and one of my favorite things to do was go to the cinema, where a ticket was $4.50. When the state increased minimum wage to $4.50, I excitedly went to the movie theatre, but was surprised to see that the movie tickets had increased to $4.75! —comment from 2011

  50. Major Kong Says:

    FWIW – I'm one of those people you see wandering around during business hours.

    I'm out on trips 15-19 days a month, but when I'm home my time is my own.

    Since a work nights my neighbors don't normally see me leaving for work or getting home from work.

  51. Matt Says:

    Funny how the "dignity of work" routine only applies to the poors and not, say, the rich collecting capital gains or inheriting wealth. Surely we should tax both of *those* streams at a serious rate to preserve the "dignity of work", right? ;)

  52. Graham Says:

    Ah yes, that would be the Dignity of Inheritance, the Dignity of Investment and the Dignity of The Rackets.

  53. Barry Says:

    arjun Says:

    "The whole controversy about minimum wage truly baffles me. Even Henry Ford, a true capitalist if there ever was one, knew that employees had to make a living wage to buy the products his factory was producing. "

    This is a myth, and breaks down the minute one thinks about it. Ford paid higher wages because absenteeism hurts harder on an assembly line than for gang labor. If the job paid (say) a $1/day more than others, then being fired for absenteeism would hurt more.

  54. Barry Says:

    Xynzee: "What I don't get about the FaFV voting block—or more to the point their church leaders—is the rabid opposition to minimum wage. Economic stress is one of the greatest factors in marital breakdown. Economic stress is a major factor abortion."

    First, a desire to harm others. I think that in much of the 'Christian' right (at least in the USA), there's a serious major factor of sadism. Especially when that's mixed in with oppressing and controlling others.

    Second, for the leaders, the worse off others are, the more dependent they'll be (in the minds of the leaders) on church charity. Which means money to be skimmed, and power. It'd be nice, in their view, if the poor had to beg at church, and be forced to jump through hoops for their supper.

  55. Blake Says:

    Well, minimum wages are a poorly targeted and inefficient way of transfering money to poor people. A fair and tight labor market is what wages should rest on, but rising wages drive inflation so we can't have that. So anyhow Imo most of the opposition to minimum wages is because they hate poor people or whatever, but some of it is because they are stupid and hurt people and distract the anti-poverty political movements into fighting for changes that will do little to help those they claim to be trying to help.
    It's kind of like the gun thing, both sides profit from the fighting and so neither would clearly benefit from a sane solution.

  56. Robert Says:

    Fun fact about Paul Ryan – he has never worked a full time private sector job. His former adoration of Ayn Rand (now neatly stuffed down the memory hole) is especially amusing in light of that. He also paid for college with his Social Security survivor's benefits.

    Worst job I ever had, back in high school, was range boy at a golf course. We had to go out and scoop up the balls while the range was in use. To be fair, we did have helmets. Two dollars an hour.

  57. Anonymouse Says:

    So, I'm just back from a quick getaway to the area known as "Pennsyltucky" (part of Pennsylvania that's not Pittsburgh or Philadelphia). I stayed in a B&B in a small town that caters to tourists. The town does boast a small chocolate factory (the town is not Hershey!) and an even tinier pretzel factory, but other than that, the only jobs in town are in the tiny storefronts selling various things to tourists. Looking for a $200 sweater? A $70 dinner? You can get them here (but not a pint of milk or some shoelaces; you have to leave town for an everyday need). The townspeople have to commute for work unless they're one of the lucky ones in the small chocolate factory, or else an employee in the service industry. After reading Ed, it gave me some insight into no-job towns.

  58. Tim H. Says:

    Better we embrace socialism lite now, as things get worse more radical solutions will seem sensible. And that 1914 $5/day? Look up the price of a troy ounce of gold in 1914 and compare it to the 2014 price, strings and all, it wasn't bad money.

  59. ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© Says:

    Telling lies for a right wing think tank: The opposite of dignity.

  60. Freeportguy Says:

    Whenever conservatives talk about the standard "dignity of work", "wealthy people work harder" and "no hand out should be allowed", I always wonder why they don't put their money where their mouths are by campaigning on making trust funds illegal and implementing a 100% tax on estate…

  61. Bob Munck Says:

    There always — always — comes a point where "employee dignity" and "corporate profit" come into conflict.

    "Employee dignity" always — ALWAYS — loses.

  62. Kaleberg Says:

    I don't believe in the dignity of work, though I do believe in the dignity of getting paid – the more pay, the more dignity. Lots of people have worked and do work damned hard, but not all of them get paid, and not all of them get paid very much.

    I think raising the minimum wage is a great way to deal with freeloader businesses, basically businesses that have a flawed business model. If your business required, let's say, a horse, for example, to pull your cart, you'd have to provide that horse with food, a place to sleep, a place for its down time, medical care, horse shoes, and probably other horse stuff I don't even know about. If you didn't you'd have a sick or dead horse, and your cart isn't going to pull itself.

    It's the same with businesses. If you want to hire someone to do some work for you, you've got to pay them enough so they can eat, have a place to sleep, have a place for down time, get medical care, buy shoes and all that other stuff humans need to stay functional. If you aren't paying enough for that, you're relying on charity and government social services to make up the difference. In other words, you're a charity case, a burden, and should be sanctioned. Maybe there should be some dignity in being an employer.

    I'm an Old Testament sort. There are things we owe the poor. (There are also things we don't owe them.) In bible times, it was all the grain towards the edges of each field and any grain that wasn't caught on the first harvesting. That was theirs. You owed it to them.

  63. Manifest Irony Says:

    When I went to Europe for the first time, I found myself wondering around Amsterdam at 5:30 in the morning due to jet lag. One of the very few people I saw was a street sweeper, cleaning up last night's vomit and God knows what else. The man was cheerful, smiling and literally whistling while he worked. I noticed the same thing in other people with "menial" jobs all over Europe: garbage men, train porters, and even American fast food chain workers. They all seemed uniformly content whereas in the US their counterparts seem miserable. I though about it for a while and found the most likely explanation. The all get a guaranteed living wage, heath care and time off. They're not in danger of living on the streets if they need to take some time off or get sick. It's not that the job or work is undignified in this country; it's the compensation and the way workers are treated that is.

  64. Anonymouse Says:

    @Manifest Irony; I found the same thing you did in Holland and Germany. One of my biggest surprises is that being a waiter is an actual career over there, because they're paid well enough to live and don't have to worry about losing their job and going bankrupt if they catch the flu and must see a doctor.